Sunday, March 26, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Idaho woman blames car crash on sasquatch - Moscow, Idaho (AP)

The woman told Benewah County Sheriff's officials that she saw a sasquatch chasing a deer on the side of the road while driving. She says she checked one of her mirrors to get a second look at the beast and when she looked up, the deer ran in front of her.

Photo: Associated Press

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jimmy Breslin, RIP

Sad news. Jimmy Breslin, Columnist for Gritty New York, Dies at 88:
“Essentially he was a storyteller,” Richard and Phyllis Kluger wrote in “The Paper,” their 1986 book on the New York Herald Tribune, where Breslin began writing columns in 1963. “His technique was generally to approach a story from the standpoint of the least exalted person connected with it or from the most unexpected angle, the one no other reporter had thought of or knew how to do or had been granted the license to attempt.”

He was first of all columnist, but also wrote novels, and, later, long-form journalism and an autobiography, I'd Like to Thank My Brain For Remembering Me. His rolling-on-the-floor-funny first novel, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, was a very needed corrective to the romanticization of organized crime in The Godfather, et alia.

His column about JFK's grave digger has been cited in many of the obits I've seen today, but I always liked the column he did about Churchill's death. Breslin went to London to cover the state funeral, but he found his material in - naturally - a pub, one in the East End called The Crooked Billet.
“Where?” she snapped. “Under the archway. Right down the street. It was a shelter, only it collapsed and I stood with my three and watched them pull my mother out dead and I was standin’ there with my ’usband away and my mother dead and then Churchill came and he told us all. ’E said for every one they dropped ’e’d drop three on them and we knew ’e meant it and ’e was goin’ to do what ’e said. And ’e done it. I’ll never forget that Sunday morning.”

Her hand came out in a fist and she shook it and her face flushed and she told you again, “’E said ’e’d give them three for every one they dropped and ’e done what ’e said, just like I knew ’e would.”

For the generation or two who haven't grown up with Breslin's columns, check out one of his books. You'll like it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Silent Rex Speaks and Explains His Lack of a Traveling Press Pool

Henry Kissinger looking very excited next to Jill St. John

Did the practice of holding mid-air press briefings during SecState official visits begin with Henry Kissinger? I can't recall any earlier SecState being the kind of media star that Kissinger became, to his obvious great enjoyment. Or later Secretaries, either. Powell and Rice, for instance. I don't recall them having press retinues. Certainly they both valued their private lives, and kept them separate from their public lives. Kissinger, of course, went the other way, and made his public life the basis of his celebrated private life, at least for quite a few years back in the 70s.

Silent Rex is a return to the all-business model. In his one and only press interview during his current trip to East Asia he explained why he feels no need to bring a gaggle of reporters along. His reasons boil down to a rejection of Washington DC's invented tradition of mid-air press briefings, the presence of overseas press bureaus in his destination countries, and a preference for working rather than schmoozing with reporters while he travels. 

Transcript: Independent Journal Review's Sit-Down Interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:
EM: Are you concerned about the message that you might be sending China by not taking a traveling press pool with you into China, which restricts press access. There’s obviously been a lot of uproar over press access to you, especially on this trip. Will you ever do this again?

RT: This what? You mean this … where I don’t take —

EM: Yes.

RT: Look, it’s driven by a couple of things. Primarily it’s driven — believe it or not, you won’t believe it — we’re trying to save money. I mean, quite frankly, we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft, which also flies faster, allows me to be more efficient, and we’re going to destinations that, by and large, the media outlets have significant presence already, so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing. The fact that the press corps is not traveling on the plane with me, I understand that there are two aspects of that. One, there’s a convenience aspect. I get it. The other is, I guess, what I’m told is that there’s this long tradition that the Secretary spends time on the plane with the press. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of that. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work. That’s not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we’re in the air, I’m working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages. Maybe things will change and evolve in the future. But I hope people don’t misunderstand ... there’s nothing else behind it than those simple objectives.

EM: I have heard the cost savings issue, but there has been such an uproar. Does that bother you or do you take their message, especially, like I said, going into China and the restriction of the press there?

RT: Well, as I understand it, most major news outlets have presence in China. They have bureau offices. They have people there. So it’s not like they can’t cover what’s happening there. The only thing that’s missing is the chance to talk more in the air.

EM: Well, that’s —

T: There’s not going to be anything, in terms of access, visibility is what we’re doing, there isn’t any other, that I can see, there’s nothing else to it.

EM: Right so your answer is you don’t intend to change this model for your next trip.

I think we may safely assume he will not change this model of restrained enthusiasm for the press corps.

By the way, in fairness to the middle-aged Henry Kissinger of the '70s, he was not the only one to be impressed by Jill St. John, who, evidently, enjoyed the political-celebrity lifestyle back then. Kissinger was not made of stone.

P.S. - As I type this, Jill St. John is being interviewed on Turner Movie Classics. What a long career! Especially for an actress who was in only one or two movies, and no memorable ones. She might outlast Kissinger, who himself is still getting around in his 93rd year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Silent Rex

SecState Tillerson is sure getting a lot of grief for his reserved demeanor and laissez-faire approach to the news media. I'm just going to go completely contrary and say that I admire his quiet style.

My favorite President is 'Silent Cal' Coolidge, and my favorite actor is Charles Bronson, in whose finest movie, The Mechanic (the original 1972 version, not the remake), he doesn't say a single word for the first 20 minutes. He didn't need a lot of jibber-jabber because he simply went about his job in a self-possessed and competent manner.

Why shouldn't Silent Rex avoid the media? In the age of social media, why do we still have press briefings, anyway? We all get the same information at the same time now, so it isn't like we have to wait until 6PM for Walter Cronkite to tell us "and that's the way it is, March 17, 2017."

More importantly, if you were a Republican appointee, what would you conclude about the press from, for instance, leaked email which show Hillary's campaign staff colluding with their friendlies in the press to control the narrative about a scandal?

The press isn't about to get that friendly with Tillerson. So why should he let them clutter up his airplane when he's trying to get some work done?

White House Fence Jumper Spent 16 Minutes on the Grounds Undetected

A surprising new development in the case of that White House fence-jumping incident back on March 10 happened today, when the Secret Service publically acknowledged that the intruder was loose on the White House grounds for an incredible 16 and a half minutes before they found and arrested him.
At 11:21:38 pm an individual breached an outer perimeter fence near the Treasury complex, near East Executive Avenue. This fence is approximately 5 feet in height. The individual proceeded within the secure perimeter and scaled an 8 foot vehicle gate. The individual then proceeded to climb over a 3 ½ foot fence near the SE corner of the East Wing of the White House grounds. Uniformed Division Officers attempted to ascertain the location and identity of the individual. At 11:38:00 pm, the individual was taken into custody on the grounds without incident.

But now the House Oversight Committee is on the job, and we can be sure that Chairman Jason Chaffetz will soon be on top of the situation.

The Secret Service has only itself to blame, of course. If only it hadn't turned Chaffetz down when he applied for a job as an agent, he wouldn't have a platform from which to oversee it now.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Police Tase Suspect in Pikachu Onesie During Brawl Outside A-Town Bar & Grill - ArlNow

The incident happened around 9 p.m. on the 1000 block of N. Randolph Street. According to police, it started when the man in the Pikachu costume, Steven Goodwine, Jr., tried to pick a fight with the bouncers at A-Town after being kicked out of the bar’s weekly “Sunday Funday” festivities.

Goodwine “became aggressive with the door staff and Mr. Reid attempted to intervene,” according to what may be the longest item ever on an Arlington County Police Department daily crime report (here).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Secretary Tillerson Isn't Press-Friendly, and We Should Be Okay With That

Regarding our evidently press-shy SecState Rex Tillerson, am I the only one who sees him in the mold of former SecState George Shultz (1982 to 1989)?

Like Tillerson, Shultz (see his official bio here) was also a former CEO - in his case it was Bechtel and the international construction business - and became Secretary of State unexpectedly. Shultz had been an economic advisor and budget guy before President Reagan asked him to replace Al Haig when the later resigned after only seven months in office.

I watched Tillerson's "Hi, I'm the new guy" first day speech, and hearing him stress safety as a core value made me flash back to seeing Shultz at a townhall meeting back in his day (I am sooo old!) and hearing him equate security of diplomatic operations to industrial safety in the construction business. Both times I was a little surprised, but figured yeah, okay, I guess.

Shultz didn't do a lot of flying around Special Envoy-like, but mainly stayed in the office and ran the organization. Fundamentally undramatic. I don't remember him being a media star. He seemed to have the economist's mindset, in which you make an input and then wait six or eight months to see if it had an effect. There's not much immediate gratification there to excite the news media.

Tillerson gives every indication so far of being the same pragmatic CEO type of Secretary. We could do a lot worse, even he never gets friendly with the press corps.

How Did He Think He'd Get Away With That?

From the (Magical) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we have this story of spurned love and revenge gone wrong, Saudi man avenges ex-wife with $80,000 road fines, but plan backfires:
Saudi’s highways authorities have cleared a woman of traffic fines totaling $80,000, even though it was her car involved in the offences.

The woman’s car was the one being driven, but it was her estranged husband at the wheel shortly after she filed for divorce as a form of revenge.

The jilted man committed a whopping 375 traffic offences in Jeddah, in the woman’s car, Saudi daily Okaz reported.

The woman initially received the fines, but after explaining what had happened, the authorities transferred to her ex-husband’s name.

Come on, buddy! That plan was never going to work. "They'd be driving cars, but they're not allowed, you see."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The WaPo's 'Drip, Drip, Drips' Kind of Evaporate

The Diplomatic Correspondent for the WaPo had a story last Thursday that promised more Trumpening of the State Department than it delivered - That drip-drip is the sound of two more senior diplomats leaving Foggy Bottom:
The steady departure of senior officials at the State Department is continuing, as two assistant secretaries of state are stepping down next week.

The impending losses of Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of African affairs, leave only a handful of career diplomats who were holdovers from the Obama administration among the cadre of senior State Department officials.

It's more evidence for the meta-story that the WaPo has been reporting for weeks. You know, all those visions of empty corridors, idle employees whiling away the hours in the cafeteria, layoffs in the senior ranks, and the purge of the 7th floor.

But then, what's this?
Russel and Thomas-Greenfield are not resigning from the government; they are taking State Department-related jobs not actually at the State Department.

It turns out one of the departing seniors is going to "a one-year assignment as a diplomat in residence and senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute" and the other "will become a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy." Those sound like nice gigs. After which I assume they will either return to the Department or maybe retire, of their own choice and not because Trumpistas ran them out of town on a rail.

Looking at the comments on that article I saw something wonderful and rare, a response from a reader who is knowledgeable and even-tempered:
I worked at State as an FSO. I changed jobs more than a dozen times. Twice I had jobs "outside the Department", at Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy and at Smithsonian. Both times I came back to the Department on schedule. This story just reports the routine. It is like a breathless story about a river that is not flooding or a house that is not burning.

So then, it's just a dog-bites-man story and fundamentally uninteresting, despite the headline and misleading lead paragraphs.

Until the WaPo purges these hyped-up headlines from its editorial system, readers should automatically dial them down a few levels of drama.